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THE ICON REVIEW: HOLDING VIEWERS TO RANSOM

January 14, 2018

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Like most things in Parchi, Eman’s (Hareem Farooq) actions make little sense
Like most things in Parchi, Eman’s (Hareem Farooq) actions make little sense

With Parchi’s release, I believe it is high time we accept two things: first, that this subgenre of comedy/action/heist movies — let’s christen it ‘Losers and Capers’ — is the go-to choice for Pakistani action filmmakers; second, that our filmmakers are quite happy with producing mediocre movies.

There is a reason why I’ve come to this conclusion. Of all four ‘Losers and Capers’ movies — Jalaibee, Na Maloom Afraad, its sequel and Chupan Chupai — not one has risen to the standard of an excellent motion picture. Formula-wise, the stories are easy enough to lay out (though, not write) and you don’t need to cast major actors (not one film had A-list actors at the time of their making). Despite the allure of the genre, we fail to add two critical components to the mix: character depth and sensibly thought-out stories (as good as NMA was, its last hour was idiotic). The filmmakers substitute these components with oddball characters and comedy, and hope the audience will get hoodwinked.

Parchi has more or less the same creative pitfalls. The film opens hard and fast with Bash (Ali Rehman Khan) — your stereotypical angry young man — in hot water with a local trigger-happy mob boss called Zodiac (Shafqat Cheema). To get his life back, Bash has mere days to accumulate five million rupees any which way he can.

Enter the rest of the loser crew — Bash’s recently fired straight-laced brother Bilal (Usman Mukhtar), a simple-minded vet named Bhola (Shafqat Khan, also the screenwriter) and Saqlain (Ahmed Ali Akbar), a whimpering romantic whose biggest problem is that he can’t get a job paying above 50,000 rupees.

There is little to no actual plot in Parchi. It has a series of events forcibly tied to the five lead actors

In desperation the group reaches out to Eman (Hareem Farooq), a gorgeous local hoodlum who keeps her neighbourhood safe from extortion slips. Together they plot a caper so loopy and cinematically incoherent that I still have a problem connecting the dots.

One fails to empathise with the predicament of the leads, who bicker, butt heads and run rampant like nincompoops
One fails to empathise with the predicament of the leads, who bicker, butt heads and run rampant like nincompoops

First of all, there is little to no actual plot in the film. Just a series of events forcibly tied to the five lead actors. As a character, Eman is hard to get. She is kind with the locals and is not into shady businesses. What exactly makes her a dangerous gangster, the plot never tells us. She does walk with an armed escort in slow-motion through a crowded street, so I guess she means business. When Eman eventually falls for one of the male leads the revelation is as sudden and nasty as an unexpected electric jolt. Like most things in Parchi, her actions make little sense.

As the story moves forward, haphazardly and without structure (especially post intermission), we realise that no one bothered to think things through. Rather than refine the story, the story impulsively adds a ditsy daughter (Mah-i-Nur Haider Khan) and her horror aficionado mother (Faiza Saleem) to distract our attention.

One of the biggest problems with the ‘Losers and Capers’ formula — especially in this film — is the fluctuating tone between comedy, action and drama. Zodiac has no problem killing his own people with dead-centre headshots, yet Parchi treats the grimness as a punchline. As with most other Pakistani films, we never feel the threat of the villain, and without a sense of dread we fail to empathise with the predicament of the leads, who bicker, butt heads and run rampant like mindless nincompoops.

To give the actors their due, the excellent action-reaction timing between the four male actors delivers some genuinely comedic moments. However, these moments aren’t enough. By the end of the first hour, I was wondering about the relevance of the title — the parchis in Parchi. Apart from setting up a few scenes, the filmmakers forgot to integrate that plot device into the story as well.

I’ve always believed that Azfar Jaffri, the director of the film, has the quirks of a technically intelligent filmmaker. In Siyaah, his feature film debut, he was mostly confident and well-balanced, despite the occasional snags (the double climax didn’t work for me, amongst many small tidbits). With Janaan, Jaffri added story structure and the lack of character motives to his set of problems. Here, these basic problems amplify.

Jaffri is far, far savvier on the technical front. The first few scenes are a testament to his growth. However, the rest of the movie and especially the last few scenes make you begin to doubt your earlier judgement.

Published in Dawn, ICON, January 14th, 2018

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